Forklifts, trucks and the occasional golden retriever intersect the warehouse, sheds and stacked bags of feed bordering the Kawamura Farms compound on Wehe Road in Lihue. The 50-year power equipment business bustles, as three generations of family rush to keep customers moving. Amid the flow of traffic, there’s one individual on cruise control; his work is one of a more subtle definition, as he knits the commotion together with friendly quips and teasing.
Edward Kawamura Sr. expanded the business his father began when he returned to Kaua`i in 1978 from 20 years of military service.
“I won’t retire, I’ll expire,” he jokes. “Just like my father.”
Whether bent over a chain saw or refilling fuel on a mower, he’ll make time to chat with customers as they enter, and usually the ribbing begins with water. Kawamura attributes his vitality and that of his 91 year-old mother to purified water.
“Water’s the cash flow to your body,” he informs a gentleman there to buy a bale of hay. “You wouldn’t run your car without enough water in the radiator would you?”
Purifying body and soul is foremost in this active Vietnam veteran’s mind. For Kawamura a life of service is a life of generosity and when he’s not advocating water consumption, he’s promoting volunteerism.
“You are here for the sake of others,” said the Shinnyo-en Buddhist, a Buddhist order based on the Nirvana Sutra, emphasizing that all people can reach enlightenment by acting with compassion and concern for others.
Kawamura’s life reflects this commitment. Husband, father, grandfather, businessman and spiritual seeker, he wears many hats – but none more proudly than that of Vietnam War veteran.
“I represent nothing,” he said, dismissing all credit.
Pointing to the American flag painted across the side of the Disabled American Veteran’s vehicle he drives, he continued: “That’s what we stand for.”
He can usually be found at Kawamura Farms, and when he’s not, he’s advocating for veterans around the island and the country. For the past 10 years he’s been shuttling disabled veterans to doctor’s appointments island-wide in the patriotically painted SUV.
“My wife tells me I’m married to the veterans first, and her, second,” he chuckles.
Kawamura enlisted in the United States Army in 1958, serving one tour in Vietnam.
“Ours wasn’t a famous war,” he said. “When I returned home in 1978 I wanted to do my part; to show that we (veterans) are not the bad guys. Good guys came home from that war. These are people who made a commitment to duty, honor and country.”
Devout in his commitment to veterans and their families, Kawamura returned to Kaua`i with his wife –whom he met while stationed in Germany—and has been in service to raising awareness of the plight of veterans ever since. Both World War II and the Vietnam War played a role in his motivation to educate the non-serving public.
“To put us (Japanese Americans) in the right perspective, when we served we had a lot of pride and more to prove. After World War II we wanted to follow in the footsteps of those who served before us.”
Before World War II, the land Kawamura Farms stands on was a school. During the war it became a military headquarters, and then returned to being a school. Edward Kawamura’s father, Mac Kawamura, leased the land month-to-month for 30 years until finally acquiring it in 1992.
“The family business has been supporting me while I canvas for veterans since 1978,” he said. “I followed my father’s footsteps. He did a lot of public service. It’s always been about helping others.”
Kawamura serves as national executive committeeman for the National Disabled Veterans Organization representing Hawai`i, Arizona and Nevada and he’s on the Advisory Board for the Veteran’s Association.
Ever the proponent for volunteerism, Kawamura encourages Kaua`i residents to “go look for a veteran. If you participate, you help yourself and your community,” he said. “We all gotta do our little part.”
“We are all farmers in our own way,” he continued. “We carry the seeds in us. It’s up to us to plant and nurture them to the end of that harvest. Then at a certain point of that there, you have to pass that seed on. It don’t matter if you get recognized.”
Within the family, work or while volunteering his mission is to harmonize the community.
“It’s about what the Buddha taught and what’s in your heart. When you go to do anything, check to see if it’s from here,” he said touching his chest. “Or from here,” touching his forehead. “It’s a reflection from the heart – what we do. How people respond to you is what you reflect. Always be grateful for what you got. It’s because of others and not you.”